WelCom March 2019:
Bishop Charles Drennan
Bishop of Palmerston North Diocese
I don’t have a Facebook profile. But as I tap this I understand that thousands of Kiwis are updating their profile picture to fit a Kiwibank Facebook frame. Why? Because the wording of the frame is ‘I AM HOPE’ and the deal is that for every person who changes their profile picture to the bank’s frame, Kiwibank will donate $1 to help Kiwis get free mental health counselling.
Marketing gimmick? Sure is. But riding on the back of: an ‘I care’ image, a hope-filled message, a concrete outcome, and a kind of plea for change (echoes here of the Labour Party’s win at the last election). The Church usually manifests the first two well, but we struggle with transformative change. We struggle to embody the fruits of our growth in insight (cf. Dei Verbum 8).
“Societal change needs attitudinal change, which either takes hold of individuals or not.”
I’m not suggesting that our Church profile or good news needs marketing gimmicks to get traction. Indeed, the lasting effect of the Kiwibank campaign is unclear. A quick Facebook profile change makes people feel good, but can a genuine desire for change simply be outsourced or delegated to Kiwibank or counsellors or anyone else? Societal change needs attitudinal change, which either takes hold of individuals or not.
“The Holy Spirit, the source of our creativity, far from being ‘out there’, dwells within us and through us ‘helps the Church keep the freshness of youth’ – Lumen Gentium, 4.”
What about the Church? Change is certainly something Pope Francis is advocating and demonstrating. He talks much of humility simplicity, accompaniment and synodal leadership. He has called us to ‘abandon the complacent attitude that says we have always done it this way and to be bold and creative in the task of evangelisation’ or bringing people to Jesus and his Church (Evangelii Gaudium, 33).
Creativity – a privileged space of the Holy Spirit – seems to thrive in moments of release from the here and now but Christian creativity needs to return to the here and now, in a transformative way. The Holy Spirit, the source of our creativity, far from being ‘out there’ dwells within us and through us ‘helps the Church keep the freshness of youth’ (Lumen Gentium, 4).
Are we gaining traction with purifying and invigorating change? Does the freshness of youth come to mind when you think of the Church? I’ve just come out of two cherished days with the leaders of our Religious Orders. A Marist Brother led us on contemplative listening. His insights were profound. They pointed to a changed encounter with the world and each other, starting now. He showed us how we can experience all that shapes us in a deeply trinitarian way.
I experienced Br Graham Neist’s insights as a contrast to a trap that I think some Religious leaders can fall into, of forever talking about categories of change – hope, vision, new ways of being etc – in ways that bypass or overlook today or tomorrow. Vision that does not start to impact today runs a risk of morphing into a kind of escape not embrace of our world, of our Church, of our young. Pastoral planning can do the same. Indeed, any governance group that limits its table to the safe and predictable, risks not hearing or seeing the voice of the now (to use Pope Francis’ term) let alone the indicators of tomorrow and beyond.
Lent is around the corner. It’s our season of purification; our means to re-invigoration. One area I want to work on is decluttering my ministry of what impedes a leadership based in communion. By that, I do not mean I want to drown in a sea of opinions. Rather I want to trust the promptings of the Holy Spirit and embrace the dynamism of today, in order to work hard with others to witness to our stressed world the depth of loving communion that God has created us for, in all time and every season.